Artist: Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One
Album Title: Revel In Time
Label: InsideOut Music
Date of Release: 18 February 2022
I’ve had a few struggles this year already with a couple of reviews, with writer’s block and a lack of clarity causing me to procrastinate and not know what to think or what to write about a particular record. However, this has been by far and away the most difficult to get to grips with and get to a point where I feel like what I’m writing is fair, accurate, or honest. Let’s hope that what you are now reading at least comes across as a blend of all three.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen is nothing short of a workaholic, always seeming to be working on one project or another at any given time. From Guilt Machine to Stream Of Passion, and from Ayreon to The Gentle Storm, Lucassen is a big name and well-loved musician within progressive rock and metal circles. But it’s not just the albums that he writes and records, it’s the fact that almost all of them will feature an ambitious cast of musicians to assist bring Lucassen’s musical visions to life. The logistics, the ball-juggling, and the sheer breadth of what is attempted is always incredible, meaning that a new release from the self-titled ‘tall skinny hippie’ is almost always an event rather than just an interesting date on the calendar.
Personally speaking, it is with Ayreon and Star One that I find most of my enjoyment, with my well-worn Star One T-shirt one of my most prized assets in my extensive ‘black’ wardrobe that I have dedicated to my collection. However, with that said, I must also go on record as saying that I don’t always like what Arjen Lucassen creates; some of his music is incredible, whilst some doesn’t resonate with me much at all. This is hardly surprising when you consider just how diverse his music can be, albeit always recognisable as the work of one man and one man only. Nevertheless, I have been excited about the release of the third instalment in the Star One franchise, following on from ‘Space Metal’ (2002), and ‘Victims Of The Modern Age’, released over a decade ago in 2010.
I became more excited when I discovered more about the ‘cast’ of musicians to be involved on this third Star One record, ‘Revel In Time’. I’ll go into more detail as the review continues, but names like Ross Jennings, Jeff Scott Soto, Roy Khan, Michael Romeo, and Michael Mills all feature in creating a genuinely mouth-watering prospect. It’s also a departure from the previous Star One offerings, both of which featured ‘just’ four vocalists throughout, namely Floor Jansen, ‘Sir’ Russell Allen, Damian Wilson, and Dan Swanö. All of these artists appear on ‘Revel In Time’ but rather than constantly dip in and out of songs as their parts demanded, each is responsible for one song within the eleven. In part, a product of the worldwide pandemic, but also an opportunity to reboot the Star One sound and make it fresh and interesting.
I also became intrigued when I learned that each of the songs on ‘Revel In Time’ would be based around a film featuring some manipulation of time within the plot. However, not being the biggest movie buff, or fan of the sci-fi genre in particular, it’s here where I reveal that I have only seen three or four of the eleven films referenced. I feel it’s therefore best if I focus almost entirely on the music within this review.
Or at least, I thought it would be best to focus on the music. But it’s on that score that I have had the most difficulty. It has taken an awful lot of time and listens to get to this point, where I feel able to coalesce my thoughts into a review. In short, being 100% honest, at the outset, I wanted to like ‘Revel In Time’ more than I found that I did. I didn’t want to face a reality, which sucks enough as it is, where a Star One album wouldn’t bring a smile to my face and light up my wizened prog-loving heart. So I listened…and listened…and listened some more. Having been fortunate enough to have had access to the album for several weeks, I am sitting here on the eve of it’s release, ill, but content that I have reached my verdict. There are still one or two songs that I like a little less than others, but now that the dust has settled, I can confirm that Arjen Lucassen has once again done himself proud and the vast majority of long-term fans will be very pleased with the results.
There’s no getting away from the fact that I am going to have give a blow-by-blow description of the songs, as each brings a different flavour thanks to the subject matter and the chosen vocalist. I’ll be as succinct as I can, but here goes…
Up first is ‘Fate Of Man’, based on ‘The Terminator’ and Lucassen has chosen Unleash The Archers’ vocalist Brittney Slayes to lead from the front. The sci-fi trappings are evident from the beginning thanks to a cinematic synth-led intro that segues into a full-on progressive metal song, big on neo-classical effervescence, and driven along by the drumming of Ed Warby at an energetic pace, matched at every turn by the powerful lungs of Slayes. Michael Romeo delivers a typically impressive lead solo, but for me, it’s the heaviness of the material that leaves the lasting impression and delights me following recent, less metallic outings, such as Ayreon’s ‘Transitus’.
If you think that the first track is heavy, wait until you hear the ‘Donnie Darko’-inspired ’28 Days (Till The End Of Time)’; the opening guitar riff is down-tuned and monstrous, sludgy and menacing. The pace is slower, but it allows the keys to add layers of atmosphere, upon which ‘Sir’ Russell Allen delivers a spellbinding masterclass of the highest order. Timo Somers provides a soulful and wailing lead solo before a groovy riff enters for good measure. The heaviness gradually recedes until the final sequence that sees the return of those Earth-shaking guitar tones.
On an album that is generally about stellar individual performances rather than complex progressive compositions, ‘Prescient’ bucks the trend somewhat. Michael Mills and Haken’s Ross Jennings provide a compelling, multi-layered vocal performance over what is arguably the most overtly proggy track on the album, complete with acoustic guitars and some potent keyboards throughout. Inspiration comes from the film ‘Primer’ and it was a slow-burner for long periods, but it has eventually worked its magic on me; how could it not with two singers of this calibre coming together some impressively?
‘Back To The Future’ had to feature in some form or another, and it is up to Jeff Scott Soto alongside able assistance from Ron Bumblefoot Thal, to bring Lucassen’s composition to life. Given the clientele, it goes without saying that ‘Back From The Past’ would be more of a straightforward, hard-rocking number, full of swagger and more of a ‘classic’ hard rock sheen, albeit with some proper grunt from the guitars in the mid-section in particular. The title track on the other hand, based around one of my favourites, ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’, brings the groove and the heaviness all in one. Fronted by Brandon Yeagley, and with some superb guitar solos courtesy of Adrian Vandenberg, it benefits from one of my favourite choruses on the album; so catchy and full of character, it cannot fail to raise a smile.
Joe Lynn Turner is the box office draw for ‘The Year of ‘41’, a track that builds upon a more straightforward hard rock framework, complete with acoustic guitars to counteract the chunky riffs that sit at the heart of the song. Will Shaw, Joel Hoekstra, and Jens Johansson contribute strongly to the composition too, even though I must be honest and say that it isn’t a personal favourite despite the brighter, breezier attitude that comes through as well as a fantastic performance from Turner.
Death, taxes, and Damian Wilson on an Arjen Lucassen album – the holy trinity of life’s certainties. It takes until track seven for Wilson to appear, but appear he does on ‘Bridge Of Life’, based on a hitherto unheard of 2000 film called ‘Frequency’ (insert ‘shrug’ emoji here!). I love the stark juxtaposition between thunderously heavy riffs, and quiet minimalist sections, over which Wilson can sing in his inimitable style. As I sit here now, listening to the stupidly catchy chorus, I cannot fathom why it took me so long to take this composition to my heart, but it was definitely a dark horse until very recently.
Like Pavlov’s dog, for some of us, just the very mention of the name Dan Swanö can do strange things to us. It’s great to hear his voice breathe life into ‘Today Is Yesterday’ (‘Grundhog Day’), even if it took all my strength to take to it. I love the thunderous riffs and Swanö’s distinctive tones, but the almost cartoonish feel in places to what is undoubtedly deliberately a more relaxed, fun song, threatened to derail my enjoyment. However, given some of the exceptional instrumentalism from Lisa Bella Donna (Moog synths), Lucassen himself, and the backing singers Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen, it has finally converted me.
A definite favourite has to be ‘A Hand On The Clock’ for two reasons: firstly, as is always the case seemingly, Floor Jansen is pure fire. And secondly, the sprawling, majestic chorus is absolutely brilliant, kicking my butt from the first listen, something that was rare across ‘Revel In Time’. Inspired by the Source Code movie, this has to be one of the finest compositions on the album. I really enjoy the darkness to the song, not to mention a top drawer Hammond solo from Joost van den Broek transporting us back to the 70s effortlessly.
The penultimate song, ‘Beyond The Edge Of It All’ sees the return of a familiar face and voice to those who have witnessed an Ayreon live show, in the form of John Jaycee Cuijpers. The guy has a fantastically powerful voice and he, along with a rare Lucasson lead guitar solo, really steals the show within a solid song overall.
The final composition, ‘Lost Children Of The Universe’, happens to be the longest on ‘Revel In Time’, clocking in at just under ten minutes. The cinematic inspiration is 2014’s ‘Interstellar’ but for me and many others I suspect, the biggest draw is the fact that Roy Khan lends his wonderfully smooth, characterful, and mellifluous voice to the song. And what a closing song it is, complete with an appearance of the Hellscore Choir for added bombast and gravitas, not to mention an otherworldly guitar solo from Mr Steve Vai himself. The ebb and flow is superb, balancing some heavy riffing with more introspective moments where Khan can cast his spell on us. The tempo alters, the soundscape morphs, the emotion shifts, and the drama permeates at every turn. What a fantastic way to end the album, eh?
Based on the fact that I have rambled on for hours, I’m going to wrap up this review swiftly. What started out as an album that I wasn’t sure about has, via many a dark cul-de-sac of uncertainty, ended up being something of a triumph. When you add in the fact that some of the versions of the album come with a second CD where the same songs are voiced by different singers, this is really a ‘must have’ release. For anyone who’s a fan of Arjen Lucasson’s work, or for prog fans in general, there is some brilliant material on ‘Revel In Time’ that only further enhances the reputation of one of the hardest working and genuinely lovely people within progressive music world. But you already knew that, and have it on pre-order, don’t you?!
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: